It was a day of testimonies. South East District Council Chairman, Matshediso Fologang, recalled his real introduction to the HIV/AIDS problem in the village of Otse, where he saw a bed-ridden patient for the first time.
At a later stage, 10 “beautiful, charming and appetising” young women came to the District Council offices and requested a private meeting with him.
“All of us are living with AIDS,” he remembers one of the beautiful women confiding in him on behalf of the group.
Touched by their story, Fologang decided to accommodate them in his late mother’s house free of charge. They still live in the house.
The day before this testimony, Daniel Suping had met Festus Mogae and had told the former president: “Ke ne ke le tlou.” Literally that translates into “I used to be an elephant.”
To Ramotswa residents, “tlou” conjures up not the image of one of the Big Five but a vicious, jack-knife-wielding member of a vicious youth gang that used to terrorise villagers. Suping’s introduction to crime happened even as he swathed himself in a robe every Sunday to serve as altar boy in his church.
The testimonies of both men come as they shared the stage last Tuesday as key stakeholders in a unique HIV/AIDS capacity-building project in the South East district that has received international acclaim. The project’s main focus areas are palliative care and support, stigma and discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS, youth engagement strategies and delivery of HIV/AIDS education through participatory approaches.
This is the only project of its kind in the country and has attracted the attention of the National AIDS Coordinating Agency which plans to copy and replicate this model throughout the country. Beyond Botswana’s borders, countries like Ghana, Thailand and Mozambique have also shown keen interest. Youth leaders from the project have been invited to Mozambique, where a similar project is to be started, to talk about their experiences.
That is the good news. The bad news is that with Botswana having been upgraded to a middle-income country, the main sponsors of the project will pull out after March 2011 and go to poorer Third World countries.
The South East District Youth Empowerment League (SEDYEL), as this initiative is called, is a partnership between SEDC, the City of Toronto, Commonwealth Games Canada, UK Sports, Schools Without Borders Canada and Mathare Youth Sports Association of Kenya. Its aim is to channel the energy and enthusiasm of youth into sport and away from risky behaviours. Following an agreement between the Botswana Local Authorities and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, SEDC was chosen over the city councils of Gaborone and Francistown as well as the Kgatleng District Council to host this project.
On Tuesday, SEDC hosted an event in Ramotswa to open a SEDYEL youth centre built with Canadian money and free labour of the district council’s staff. SEDYEL is a result of local governments in Canada responding to the call from the United Nations Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa to partner with Africans to fight HIV/AIDS.
The mayor of Toronto was represented by one of his councillors, Rae Kyle, who, according to Fologang, fought tooth and nail to secure funding for the project. Kyle said that the centre would provide young people in the district a “safe space” away from adults where they can learn from each other and exchange ideas. A message from the Toronto mayor, as read by Kyle, described SEDYEL as “an effective delivery mechanism for HIV/AIDS education.”
SEDYEL, the only project of its kind in the country, is the largest youth league in the country with a membership of 100 teams, 27 of them being female. The league integrates HIV/AIDS education and life skills messages into sport and physical activity programmes. It involves over 1500 youth in Ramotswa, Taung, Tlokweng, Mogobane and Otse. The governing committee of the league meets once a week to deal with issues that arise during matches.
Some of the youth involved in the project have been trained as peer leader/educators and have received training on leadership, life skills training and adolescent sexual health education. The SEDYEL programmes have been extended to schools and communities in the district through theatre and games.
Kitso Masi, one of the youth leaders at the centre, said that two junior secondary schools in the district have successfully incorporated the SEDYEL model into their Guidance and Counselling programmes and that this feat has inspired other schools to do the same.